OPW CEO INTERVIEW -- June 21, 2005 -- Online dating pioneer Webdate offers 'webdating' video chat, web chat and mobile phone based dating...all for free. It's grown to 4 million members whilst maintaining a completely free membership model, much to the chagrin of it's competitors, Match.com, Yahoo Personals and American Singles. Mark Brooks, Editor of Online Personals Watch, interviews Abe Smilowitz, Webdate.com’s CEO and Founder.
Is webdate beyond 4 million users now?
Yes. We've had a consistent growth rate. Anywhere from 250 to 300 thousand new users a month. 60% is type in traffic from viral, from non-advertising referrals.
Why did you start webdate?
We started webdate to be the #1 online personals company in the world. We identified online dating as a hot industry and decided we wanted to participate and create the best online personals service on the net. We decided we would add the largest amount of users in the shortest amount of time by moving to a free model, and the rest is history...Now we're #5. We're the 5th largest online personals company (per Hitwise). Last year we were the fastest growing online personals company. We grew 800% where the industry average was 42%. The guys ahead of us are monsters and we've spent a fraction of what they've spent! What they spend in a month, we spend in a year. Some are spending in excess of $5 million a month. That's unbelievable! Probably some of the guys below us are spending several multiples of what we're spending...and we're still ahead of them. It's credit to word of mouth marketing and our user experience. We think users want a fast, simple, no frills, quick and easy communication oriented site. They don't want to have to jump through hoops. We're not overly complicated like other sites.
Was there a 'magic moment' for you when you were first developing webdate?
The magic moment for us occurred when we came up with the video dating idea. You can go to any online dating site and see fake pictures. Then you show up to a date and find your match is older than they looked...it's crazy! How do you get around the problem of fake pictures? It just seemed so 'not personal' to us. Online personals didn't give users much feel for a person's personality. Users can write down any horse crap, put up a fake picture and the person on the other side has no idea. Video dating, done properly just crushes that. It really gives users a feel for a person, not the profile, but the real person. They can interact! Enabling someone halfway round world to get a feel for someone's personality over the web, with pictures, and movement and voice. You can see if a woman is sexy, get a feel for her attitude, see if she's funny. You can pick all that up on video dating. When you're just reading a profile, staring at multiple-choice questions, just looking at words, those things don't speak to the soul as much. The way a person moves can say a lot about them. You can't pick up on body language from a profile.
How on earth can you justify making webdate free for so long?
Our justification is industry ranking. We've been able to build webdate to our #5 ranking in a very competitive industry. We have a high number of active users and significant market share now. Here's a scoop for you; we're looking to move to a premium services model in the very near future. But, we'll continue to be less expensive than any of our competitors because we feel everyone should be able to enjoy online dating. Part of our approach has been to extend online dating to all of society with webdate mobile. Minority groups are generally more mobile oriented. That's a totally different approach. Our mobile service is $3.99 a month. So, beat that! And our mobile users can interact with the entire 4 million person webdate user base. It's an inexpensive alternative to being on the website and it has most of the features of an online service. You can see pictures, browse profiles, we stand alone in the industry as far as mobile goes right now.
How does this compare with Match's mobile offering?
We've integrated the entire mobile aspect into the webdate. Match breaks it up into two sites. Ours is the only fully integrated service. Which is the future of mobile applications, fully integrated.
What will webdate look like 5 years from now?
It will be fully mobile. Everything you can do online, you'll be able to do on a cell phone, and that's what we're trying to do now.
What's the end goal? Do you want to be bigger then Match.com?
The end goal is to offer the best online personals service on the planet. If we're the biggest, great. Our philosophy is, if we build the very best product the users will come. But, it has to be the best integrated, have the best features, be the easiest to use, and be fully integrated with mobile and video. We're building the best mousetrap but not necessarily to beat Match.com in users. We think that we will beat them in users eventually, because our product is going to be better. The users will acknowledge that. Users will often join several sites when they start online dating, and then end up sticking with the one they like the best. We want to be that one. In order to do that we need to give them great combinations of features, ease of use and value...which means not charging them an arm and a leg for the service.
Does the public really care about mobile and video chat yet?
The video dating, absolutely! Over 50% of users have tried video dating. The video is here and it's here to stay. It's not pie in the sky or something for down the road. It's here now and it's only going to get bigger. As far as safety is concerned...We were thinking about safety two and a half years ago! Video dating allows people to go on first dates in the safety and security and comfort of their own homes...without putting them in uncomfortable or dangerous situations. They can get a sense of chemistry from the other users, hear their voice and look into their eyes before taking it to the real world. Mobile dating is still something that is not mature. There's no doubt it's where the future lies. There will always be online dating though. You can't completely duplicate online dating with a cell phone. There's not enough room, but there's no doubt mobile will play a huge role in the future. Our goal is to be the innovator and shape the way online dating progresses, with a mobile perspective. The companies offering it now will shape the industry down the road.
What does the future hold for webdate? Where will webdate be in two years time?
We'll be the best personals site to get in touch with the 'right person.' We're working to give our users as many options to communicate as possible in as time efficient a manner as possible. Users can see who's online, who's on video chat, who's new on the site, who's viewed their profile, who's emailed and IM'd them, who's network of friends others belong to. You shouldn't have to click five times to find what you want. You only have to click once on webdate. Everything users could possibly want is right there, laid out one click away from the home page. We're building the best online personals site and in two years we'll be at the top of the online dating rankings.
Mark Brooks: People, essentially, are the 'product' that online dating sites sell. Webdate has invested heavily to build a considerable member base, get people talking (hey it's free!), and offer some great next generation services. One to watch.